There’s a lovely place in Scotland where picturesque waterways, physics, and mesmerizing design combine in a wondrous way.

Imagine strolling along an emerald green, grassy hill with your walking stick and coming upon this scene…

Image: Approaching the Falkirk Wheel from the hill

Source: Clog Blog

And then, curiosity peaked, you walk along the lawn to your left and ponder this:

What is going on here? It looks like a canal is engineered to end abruptly 35 meters (115 feet) in the air!

Have you heard of The Falkirk Wheel? I hadn’t either, but as a part of our EWC Saturday’s Around the World Series of articles, we’ll take you to a wonder of engineering that daily brings smiles to many.

First, take a look at this fast motion video. The process you are watching usually takes 15 minutes:

Via: feesos 1

Here’s a little more, to put it in context:

Lovely, and a little mind-boggling. We wanted to know just how this worked, so we found this brief explanation by Heler Costa:

The Falkirk Wheel lies at the end of a reinforced concrete aqueduct that connects, via the Roughcastle tunnel and a double staircase lock, to the Union Canal. Boats entering the Wheel’s upper gondola are lowered, along with the water that they float in, to the basin below. At the same time, an equal weight rises up, lifted in the other gondola.

This works on the Archimedes principle of displacement. That is, the mass of the boat sailing into the gondola will displace an exactly proportional volume of water so that the final combination of ‘boat plus water’ balances the original total mass.

Each gondola runs on small wheels that fit into a single curved rail fixed on the inner edge of the opening on each arm. In theory, this should be sufficient to ensure that they always remain horizontal, but any friction or sudden movement could cause the gondola to stick or tilt. To ensure that this could never happen and that the water and boats always remain perfectly level throughout the whole cycle, a series of linked cogs acts as a back up.

Hidden at each end, behind the arm nearest the aqueduct, are two 8m diameter cogs to which one end of each gondola is attached. A third, exactly equivalent sized cog is in the centre, attached to the main fixed upright. Two smaller cogs are fitted in the spaces between, with each cog having teeth that fit into the adjacent cog and push against each other, turning around the one fixed central one. The two gondolas, being attached to the outer cogs, will therefore turn at precisely the same speed, but in the opposite direction to the Wheel.

Given the precise balancing of the gondolas and this simple but clever system of cogs, a very small amount of energy is actually then required to turn the Wheel. In fact, it is a group of ten hydraulic motors located within the central spine that provide the small amount, just 1.5kw, of electricity to turn it. 3

What a lovely little journey to a corner of Scotland that most of us will never actually get to see for ourselves.  How wonderful to know it exists.

And the Falkirk Wheel certainly proves our motto here at EWC: It’s still an amazing world!

Check out a couple of those to put a spring in your step today!

Stay open, curious and hopeful.

~ Dr. Lynda

Notes:

  1. “Falkirk Wheel Timelapse.” YouTube. Feesos, 8 May 2009. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucg1O-5jsnM>.
  2. “Falkirk Wheel.” YouTube. SkyEye Britain, 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOOsF-Yufz0>.
  3. “The Falkirk Wheel – How It Works.” YouTube. Helder Costa, 29 Dec. 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k27gOmrDgpo>.
  4. “The Falkirk Wheel – How It Works.” YouTube. Helder Costa, 29 Dec. 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k27gOmrDgpo>.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.